I, Muslim: Islam from an Outsider's View
by Daniel J. Durand
Islam is everywhere these days, and if you don't believe me, turn on the news. America's obsession with Islam is a direct result of world events leading up to and culminating in the September 11th attacks. One might even say that because of Islam, or more accurately, Islamic extremists, the Muslim faith is more popular than ever before. Indeed, thanks to pop culture and ceaseless news coverage, Islamic people are now seen by some in the same way Russians were during the Cold War.
Putting aside all the hype, the question must be asked, what exactly is Islam? Millions of people are believers in the religion, and it would be foolhardy not to have some basic knowledge of the faith, particularly with all the attention it has been receiving. Muslims are people too, and even though some may not have the best intentions, understanding the difference and the motivations behind both side's beliefs is critical to making any progress as a society.
Now for the history lesson: Islam began roughly 1,500 years ago when the Prophet Mohammed was given a command to recite scripture by the voice of Gabriel, who came to him while meditating in a cave. After a while, the story of his experience spread, and lines were drawn between believers and skeptics. Eventually, these skeptics tried to have Mohammed killed in the Muslim holy city of Medina, but failed to do so.
Galvanized under Mohammed's leadership, the people of Medina and the surrounding area took up arms and attacked the city of Mecca, from which Mohammed had fled to avoid persecution. Several battles between Mecca and Medina took place, ending in both cities firmly under Muslim control.
When the Prophet Mohammed died, there was some debate over who would take up his position as leader of the Muslim faith, and what was becoming known the world over as a nation-state in addition to a religious practice. As a result, many of the current sects of Islam, such as Sunni, Shia, and so on, are divided along political lines as to who the rightful heir should have been, or by interpretation of the Prophet and his successor's work.
So what does a Muslim believe? According to Space and Motion, all Muslims believe in the following six pillars:
“Belief in God, the one and only one worthy of all worship.
Belief in the Angels.
Belief in the Book (al-Quran / Koran) (sent by God).
Belief in all the Prophets and Messengers (sent by God).
Belief in the Day of Judgment (Qiyamah) and in the Resurrection.
Belief in Fate (Qadar)”
The site also has an English translation of the “Muslim creed”, which is:
“I believe in God; and in His Angels; and in His Scriptures; and in His Messengers; and in The Final Day; and in Fate, that Good and Evil are from God, and Resurrection after death be Truth.
I testify that there is nothing worthy of worship but God; and I testify that Muhammad is His Messenger.”
According to the site, the core beliefs of Islam are that God (called Allah in Arabic) is the only true god, and that Mohammed is his true prophet. Essentially, the remainder of the religion, the Koran, and the teachings of the Prophet, are validated by these two core beliefs and all other aspects draw from there.
So, what about all of the things we hear about on the news, like the suicide bombings and women being forced to cover their heads? Apparently, these are based on interpretations or local custom, and are not spelled out anywhere in the Koran itself as being an actual part of Islamic belief.
In fact, according to another Islamic education site, God's Mosque, men and women are equal in the Koran, and Muslims are practically pacifists unless the need arises for self-defense. The site claims that the radical events on CNN such as suicide bombings and terrorism are in fact a clever manipulation of the text. As for mistreatment of women, the site adds, “These oppressive rules in some Middle-eastern countries go against God’s laws.”
Islam is just another religion in world full of different beliefs- in some respects, it even has similarities with other major world religions like Christianity or Buddhism. Yes, it does have some members who are inclined to violence, but to a degree, every religion does. The difference is that Islam had it's bad press more recently- religious persecution is not unknown to any faith, and the 24-hour cable news network is a very recent invention.
I would suggest to fearful Americans out there, that until you can count on one hand the number of times you have personally been assaulted by an Islamic jihadist, or a fanatic of any other religion, put the fear aside and be rational. There are plenty of other things to be afraid of, like spiders, snakes, or the economy.
Islamic History Info- http://www.islamreligion.com/category/89/
Space and Motion- http://www.spaceandmotion.com/religion-islam-muslim-islamic-quran.htm
God's Mosque- http://www.godsmosque.org/topten.htm